My Figure Skating Career: Origins (Part 1)

Whenever I tell people I skate, they always give me these wide eyes and ask “How?” or “Oh since you were a kid?” or “OMG THAT’S SO COOL ARE YOU GOING TO THE OLYMPICS?!?!!” It’s kind of funny how untouchable the sport seems to the general public despite my city having at least 3 rinks open year-round and several more open during the colder months. I suppose in the land of the Eagles, Sixers, and Phillies, only the Flyers gang would even think about. But I digress.

Skating happened to me–I didn’t seek out skating. At least not at first.

It all started with a social media hub of sorts sponsored by Lyft and led by some local social media guru-types for the year of 2018, and they offered a set of complimentary tickets with skate rental at the Blue Cross RiverRink. I hadn’t been to the rink since I was in elementary school, and not skated since 2011 as a 9th grader, so I didn’t really know what to expect but was relatively optimistic.

It did rain a bit earlier in the day, but the rink decided to stay open as the sky cleared, so my friend Connie and I strapped on our dinky rental skates and tiptoed our blunt toe picks on the ice, clinging onto the soaked boards. It was a familiar sensation but definitely distant. Apparently Connie had learned how to skate as a child at some point–that was never something I did! Dance, yes, but never skating formally. So she had some mild confidence off the boards, but I hung on for a full lap. The rink wasn’t too crowded, so I didn’t feel too bad.

The second lap, I discovered that I should tie my skates tighter, and suddenly I was zooming around the rink, hands off, for laps and laps until I fell. It was terrifying but at the same time…it was awesome! I couldn’t stop thinking about skating when we finally got too tired and the ice was chopped up from all the skaters. For that hour, I completely forgot about how anxious and stressed I was about school.

That night, I casually googled “ice skating lessons” and University of Penn’s Rink webpage came up, as well as a few other rinks. I was still a Drexel student at the time, so it felt natural to look at Penn’s lessons. They weren’t too expensive and there was a session starting in a few weeks. I wasn’t exactly earning a lot of money so I was surviving on savings for the most part, and so I pushed it off for the fall when I had more money.

A mere 4 days later, I realized I was still thinking about skating and since finals were looming (freaking quarter system), I convinced my boyfriend to skate as a date. We had a blast, and my skills had already improved since the last time. That was kind of the end of my “life before skating” because the next time I would skate would be by myself the week before my first Learn-to-Skate group lesson would happen.

I was a bit of a nervous wreck going into that 12:30pm public session on a Wednesday afternoon alone at Penn’s Rink. It was my first time skating alone and I was afraid of looking ridiculous. But I wanted to get a feel for the ice! I hadn’t skated there since I was in middle school on a field trip, and I had no real recollection of that event so it made sense.

The session was pretty empty, only a few adults skaters and some more advanced college kids (nothing more complicated than some waltz jumps though). I mostly just stroked around and tried to do some of the things I saw on YouTube like swizzles, but I mostly just enjoyed going around for a bit. I don’t think I stayed for the entire session.

A few short days later, I returned to the rink, this time to turn in my check for $130 (RIP savings) and to lace into rental skates and start my first lesson. It was so crowded for a group, but we made it work. However, I could barely swizzle in these skates, and it made me feel very awkward. After appearing as if I was in the bottom of the class, I looked to see where I could get figure skates in the next week. Off to Philadelphia Skating Club I went.

On Wednesday, I took the bus to Ardmore, talked to the pro shop guy, and left with my own pair of Jackson Ultimate Artiste skates (which I would later learn were too big for me!). From Ardmore, I rode a bus and a train back to Penn’s rink just in time for the 12:30pm session to test out those bad boys. It was great! I couldn’t believe what sharp skates with actual ankle support could do for one’s skills.

Through the next few weeks, I found real improvement in my skating skills, and by the end of the 5 week session, I had passed both Adult 1 and 2 and was well on my way into 3 skills. Luckily, I had already signed up for the last adult group lessons at the Haverford Skatium (somewhere I now call home away from home) that would start the very next week so I could still learn.

Hilariously, I started this session at the top of my group somehow. Although I had no concept of backward swizzling or wiggling the week prior, I was able to teach 2 girls in my group how to do them and could actually go pretty freaking fast for someone who just started skating a mere 2 months prior.

As opposed to Penn’s classes, this class didn’t follow a structure at all, so by the time the 6 weeks were over, I had learned forward crossovers, backward swizzles, backward wiggles, t-stop, bunny hop, and because I had already started with my private coach, the group lesson instructor ended up teaching me backward crossovers too.

Since I was doing an internship during this time, I couldn’t skate those lovely 12:30pm public sessions at Penn, so I started venturing to different public sessions. I discovered free admission ice at Laura Sims Skate House in the evenings, so after work I went straight to the rink to practice and that’s where I would learn about unsolicited advice from strangers. So I stopped going there.

Okay, I skipped ahead a bit. Let’s talk about how I ended up with a private coach after only skating for less than 3 months. I have a pretty analtyical mindset and am very goal oriented, and after seeing how quickly I was learning skills, I knew that I wouldn’t last through the summer if I continued with group lessons. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work with a private coach yet because of money, but I just figured I’d try it out. I reached out to the figure skating director of the rink about ice dance coaches as I knew (after watching the Shibutanis’ Olympic Free Dance performance for the 40th time) I wanted to do solo dance, and suddenly was paired with my amazing 2x Olympian Ukrainian coach whom I still skate with today.

The first private lesson was a few weeks into my group lesson session, which happened to be on the same day just an hour afterwards. We pretty much went straight into Dutch Waltz, and I was pretty excited to not be stuck doing crossovers on a circle for a half an hour.

Until that’s basically what we did for 15 minutes a lesson for about 3 months. But hey, my crossovers are great now.

My coach teaches at a camp for 2 weeks in June, so I skated with him for 3 weeks before he left, and then spent 3 weeks away from him. But I diligently practiced that damn Dutch Waltz.

When he came back, he decided to start Canasta Tango with me, which stroked my ego quite a bit. On the day of the July test session at the rink, my coach asked if I wanted a shot at the next test session for one or both of the dances. I was ECSTATIC…and terrified.

That was a lot of money all at once that I was hesitant about. So far I had spent $130 on Penn’s lessons, another $130ish on Skatium’s lessons, $180 on the skates, probably $200 or so on my coach’s fees, $140 on the freestyle ice time, and suddenly I needed to pay for a USFSA membership, the test fees, a dress, and pay for my coach to be there. But you know what I did, right?

Yep. I started with the dress, then I signed up with Crossroads Figure Skating Club, then I registered for the test session, and eventually I made it to my first test session and passed. Wow.

Have I mentioned this is only 6 months since I stepped onto that free public session? It took me 3-90 minute public sessions to sign up for something that costs SO MUCH MONEY. And I still do it today. So that’s cool.

This series is gonna get hella long, so I’m gonna stop here, but if you’re interested in Part 2, stay tuned because it’s coming. Drop a comment if you liked, and PLEASE feel free to tell me your ridiculous origin story, particularly if you jumped head-first into this sport.

Students Run Philly Style: Organization Spotlight

Have you ever had the thought to run a 5k, 10k, or even a marathon? Though programs like C25k and Nike Training Camp provide a guideline for people to reach these goals on their own, Students Run Philly Style provides a way for young people to receive free mentorship and guidance as they work towards the large goal of completing a road race.

I’ve talked a bit about how much I love organizations that share my values, so I figured there’s no better time than the present to share some with you! I have personal ties with Students Run, having been a student during the first ever Blue season in 2014 where I trained to run the Broad Street Run, a famous 10-miler in Philadelphia. After recovering from an eating disorder, this program at my school helped me create a healthier relationship with my body, connect with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and keep myself accountable in order to achieve something great.

Girl holding a medal near her face
Girl running in a race with a watermark overlaying it
Student Run Philly Style Logo

Mission: Students Run Philly Style transforms students‘ lives through running and mentorship.

Student Run Philly Style Website

Population: Philadelphia and Camden, NJ middle and high school students

In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Philadelphia school district consisted of 46% African American students and 24% Latinx students, two of the most socioeconomically vulnerable populations in the country. The City has already expressed its position for more Out-of-School Time (OST) opportunities for students across the city to avoid exposure or committing criminal activity, as well as fortifying learning experiences. As municipal funding has been stretched and strained, it has been up to local non-profits to fill the gap the city has left for the at-risk youth in the city.

The Program

The Students Run Philly Style program is based on having teams based generally at schools led by staff at those schools. The teams collaborate with each other to have larger group practices all over the city, but within accessibility of travel for the students. These teams also have volunteer mentors that help motivate the students during their practices and races, building meaningful relationships and increase self-esteem within the students.

The program divides the year into Blue and Green seasons; the Blue season lands in the beginning of the school year, where students train for the Broad Street Run in June. The Green season starts during the summer time, where students train for a little longer in order to prepare for the full or half at the Philadelphia Marathon in November.

Students receive a lot of perks: free Students Run swag, free registration to the chip-timed races, free sneakers, covered transportation, and a free pasta dinner to carb-load before the big race of the season. If you complete the full marathon, you even get a cool hoodie that says how many times you finished the race. There are some impressive numbers!

This organization is definitely an asset to the city as it provides opportunity to those who may have never done so otherwise. Had I not joined my high school’s team in the last few months of my senior year, I probably would have never developed an athletic mindset with skating. The barrier to running these road races with proper training and equipment may seem low to some, but in a city with such a high poverty rate, this program means the world to many of its students.

Students Run has already posed itself as a lasting institution of the city landscape, hosting an annual race that benefits the program as well as pushing out impressive impact statistics year after year. With their recent admission into the Implementation cohort with the RISE Partnership, there’s no doubt that this organization will continue to help cultivate many more healthy lifestyles.

Ways you can help

Donate to the organization directly

They can always use more funds for operations and being able to supply more resources for their students!

Volunteer

Race day volunteers are invaluable! You can also become a running leader.

Become a charity runner

2 birds with one stone! Raise money for a good cause while you run your favorite race.

Question of the Day!

Have you ever run in a race? The longest race I’ve ever done was that 10-miler, but maybe one day I’ll go for the half!